PARTNERS in life and in business, Anna and Richard Costello are the perfect match.
But little did they realise how perfect until Richard was diagnosed with kidney failure and Anna was found to be a suitable donor.
Eight months on from a lifesaving transplant operation in Beaumont Hospital, both husband and wife are in good health and back running Limerick’s popular Locke Bar.
Richard - a former Garryowen, Munster and Ireland rugby player - is back on the golf course and even planning to take on the Great Limerick Run.
Blood relatives are generally more compatible donors but according to the Irish Kidney Association (IKA), the Costellos were one of seven couples who underwent a spouse-to-spouse kidney transplant last year.
As the IKA highlights organ donor awareness week (March 30 to April 6), Anna said it took a year of tests before doctors approved her to go under the knife.
“Donation was something I knew nothing about, the difference between live and cadaveric and all the other medical terms. But it was something we had to learn fairly quickly after Richard became unwell. It was like being back at school again,” she said.
An active man with five children, Richard went to A&E in February 2011 with high blood pressure and a pain in his head. High levels of creatinine in the blood pointed to chronic kidney disease and Richard began a year on dialysis, first at home and later at the Regional Hospital.
A former lock forward standing at six foot seven, because “Richard was so big he needed to be in hospital for dialysis every other day for four hours a day”, said Anna.
“We knew from the start that he would have to do a lot of tests done to get on the transplant list. And I had to have tests done as well because both the recipient and the donor have to be in reasonably good health to go through with it.”
“Never once did I entertain the thought of allowing the kids to put themselves forward. They say you might get 15 years out of a kidney and I just felt they were too young. They were still in school or in college and playing sport. Besides it was not conclusive how his kidneys had failed in the first place and I was afraid there might be something genetic. So I went forward myself and had a load of tests, health and psychological, a complete MOT, over 12 months,” said Anna.
The Costellos had shared the same room in hospital the night before the operation but Anna said that contrary to what many believe, donor and recipient are not laid out side by side in theatre. The Costellos even had separate surgical teams.
Richard was isolated after the transplant to minimise infection risk and Anna actually didn’t meet her husband until the following day when their eldest son Tony wheeled her downstairs.
“We didn’t say much really, we were just there crying but I did notice the colour was back, whether that was wishful thinking on my part or not.”
Subsequent tests confirmed Richard was on the road to recovery and Anna said they would be forever grateful to their medical teams in Beaumont Hospital and to the IKA.
“It’s a huge thing for a family to have to deal with and it was surreal at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. It happens and you have to get on with it. If we didn’t, he might not have lived,” said Anna.
While an unsuccessful transplant involving former footballer Joe Brolly has attracted much attention, cases like the Costellos highlight the successes of live organ donation, according to the IKA.
During organ donation awareness week, IKA volunteers will be distributing organ donor cards and selling forget-me-not emblems throughout Limerick city and county, including the Parkway, Castletroy, Crescent and Arthur’s Quay shopping centres from April 4 to 6. Information and awareness events will also be taking place in Dell as well as other companies and educational institutions.